Early years organisations, charities and unions have expressed their disappointment that in his Budget 2018, Chancellor Philip Hammond failed to provide any solution to the shortfall in funding faced by schools and childcare providers or take action on business rates – opting to give small retailers business rate relief only.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, which has long been campaigning for nurseries to be exempt from business rates, called the Budget a ‘real kick in the teeth’ for the early years sector.
She said, ‘Ministers are well aware of the impact of rising costs on nurseries but have chosen not to offer support at this crucial time.
‘The Government continually fails to address the impact of increases to minimum and living wage on the childcare sector.
‘If the Chancellor can find almost a billion pounds to help small shops, restaurants and cafes and even more for public toilets, he can find the money needed to give a real lifeline to nurseries. These are the settings that care for and educate our youngest children, allowing parents to return to work and yet they are being hit by the triple pain of chronic underfunding, rising costs and unfair taxes.’
The Pre-school Learning Alliance accused the Government of missing another opportunity to commit to investing what is needed to ensure the sustainability of the early years sector.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘Survey after survey and study after study has shown that there is simply not enough funding in the childcare system. The Government's own commissioned evaluation of the 30-hour offer found that the scheme is not only having a negative effect on many providers' finances, it's also resulting in higher fees and charges for a significant proportion of parents.
‘At a time when the financial pressure on the sector is continuing to rise – especially in light of the planned increase to the national living wage next year – the fact that the Government has done nothing to support the sector, and make sure a policy that it chose to introduce is actually viable in the long term, is nothing less than shameful.’
Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice the Union, said that the Government needed to properly fund the education system.
On early years specifically, she said that a ‘career and national pay structure is desperately needed to support the Government’s early years workforce strategy.’
While the Chancellor did announce one-off capital funding for schools to pay for ‘little extras’, amounting to an average of £10,000 per primary and £50,000 per secondary school, unions have said it will do nothing to address schools’ £2 billion funding shortfall.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘The Chancellor has shown in this Budget the depth of his ignorance on school funding.
‘The Government has promised more money for potholes than schools in this Budget. Schools are struggling to provide a full and well-rounded education and many schools have fallen into debt – money for "little extras" won’t cut it. Parents, teachers, headteachers and school staff will be dismayed.’
The NAHT warned that the Chancellor will have infuriated school leaders and families.
General secretary Paul Whiteman said, ‘The Government accepts that schools are expected to do more. They also acknowledge these new demands cost more money than before. They cannot have failed to notice the steady procession of school leaders, governors, parents and others campaigning for more money for schools. It is therefore utterly inexplicable that there was no new money for schools in this budget.
‘Schools and young people are most definitely much too far down the Government’s list of priorities.’
Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner added, ‘It is utterly insulting to parents and teachers for the Chancellor to talk about “little extras” when school budgets have been cut by billions and head-teachers are begging parents for money for basic supplies like books and stationery.
‘The amount he has offered is barely a tenth of the £3.5 billion that the Tories have cut from capital funding year on year, leaving thousands of children in leaking and crumbling classrooms.’
While the extra money for social care has been welcomed, Action for Children and the union Unison said it is not enough given the pressures councils are under.
Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis said, ‘Public services are running on empty, and councils are still axing thousands of jobs.
‘Years of wrecking ball austerity have left local services in a perilous state. It will take time and substantial investment for them to recover.
‘Councils need an end to this nightmare created on Downing Street. An extra bit of money for social care is just the start. Much more is needed and quickly if we are to hold onto the very fabric of our communities.’
Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, called on the Government to commit to ongoing financial support for ‘cash-strapped councils’ so they can provide the children’s services that vulnerable families and children urgently need.’
While the Chancellor announced an increase to the work allowance for claimants of Universal Credit in the Budget, children’s charities argued greater measures are needed.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, ‘While the Government has taken some important steps in the right direction it has still not done enough to address serious problems with universal credit which are causing hardship for many families.
‘Without further support for families affected by delayed payments, including new benefit claimants, many parents and children will continue to be left in a desperate situation.
‘In addition, the emergency loan for families affected by a lengthy wait for their first payment should be replaced with a grant so families are not immediately plunged into debt.
‘It’s really disappointing the four-year benefits freeze remains in place, and that we haven’t seen more action to address cuts under Universal Credit for young parents, those who are severely disabled and those who have disabled children.’
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, shared the same concerns.
She said, ‘This is crunch time for universal credit. We hope the Chancellor’s positive announcements on work allowances will be followed by a pause in the roll-out to allow for a fundamental review of its design and, crucially, for a commitment to restoring all the money that’s been taken out of universal credit.
‘The work allowance change will be welcomed by hard-up families but unless there is a further fundamental re-think of how universal credit works - and robust safeguards in place before it is scaled-up – people will continue to be pushed into debt and driven to food banks as part of their claim.’
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) argued that the announcements on universal credit cannot be a ‘substitute for a strategy to reverse the year-on-year rises in child poverty, while think-tank the Resolution Foundation accused the Government of favouring richer households in the Budget.
Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, explained, ‘The income tax cuts announced will overwhelmingly benefit richer households, with almost half of the long-term gains going to the top 10 per cent of households.'